In the week when the centenary of that marvellous writer, Roald Dahl, is celebrated, I thought about whether the tools a writer uses matter.
Dahl (and the brilliant Wodehouse) had their faithful typewriters, Shakespeare swore by his current quill (and probably at it when the nib broke, how many did he get through?!) and of course story telling originates from the oral tradition.
Answer? Of course the tools don’t matter. The crucial thing is what the writer invents but one thing that made me smile when visiting the recent Medieval Weekend was discovering the old word for scribe (writer) is scrivener. I smiled because I use the software program of the same name to produce my writing, including this post.
Scrivener is increasingly popular amongst writers and this post shows why I use it. It is produced by Literature and Latte, which I think is a great name, despite preferring tea myself! All screenshots were, of course, taken by me.
Incidentally if any writing program could produce creative genius, its inventor would make Bill Gates look hard up! So the need to read well, have an open mind, to love story, to know how story works and to have the imagination to create stories, those are the tools any writer will always need
But the right program can assist in the writing process, which is all any software can do. It is up to the writer to decide what is the most appropriate assistant. I’ve been using Scrivener for over a year now and love it. I’m not linked to the company that produce it in any way.
I heard initially about the program from another writer, whose blog I follow, and whose enthusiastic endorsement of Scrivener’s features encouraged me to investigate. The link takes you to a free trial of the program (and is available on Mac or Windows).
The first thing I loved was the fact you have 28 days in which to play with the program but this is set from the time you start using the program. This is not necessarily the same thing as 28 consecutive days and I liked this. It gave me the opportunity to play with the program as suited me.
Most importantly, there is also no commitment to buy. I didn’t receive any emails or calls to pressurise me into buying the program (this would have put me off as I loathe that style of selling but I was pleased not to be bothered like that. I only wish I could say the same for those annoying machine activated calls that tell me, apparently, I can claim for PPI! One call I’ve had recently during our August heatwave was from a company claiming “now winter is here…”. Instant delete of call. Any company that can’t get the season right has no business trying to sell its wares!).
Scrivener features I like
That you can convert any document created in Scrivener into a wide range of formats. I usually prepare a piece in Scrivener and then export it to Word so I have a Scrivener version and a Word.docx version. Not only is this good back up, I can then choose which version I want to use for further editing. (Often if it isn’t much I’ll use the Word one).
More importantly, you can convert a document for e-publication formats easily and the formats listed include .mobi (Amazon), epub (everyone else in the ebook market). I have used this when working on my flash fiction and short story collections as I wanted to see what they would look like in ebook format. I use Firefox as my browser and there is a an easy to use and free add on called EPUB Reader which enables me to read the ebooks I’ve created via Scrivener.
I love the Project Target statistics. I’ve put in images taken from my screen of the different stages of the bar graph going from red to amber to green as my work gets towards the target I’ve set. This target can easily be reset or changed.
I enter short story and flash fiction competitions where getting the word count right is crucial so I can use this tool to help me see when I’ve got to the correct point.
I can also use Project Targets “in reverse” when I need to edit a story down. For example, say a short story has a word count of 500 and I need to cut it in half, I could set the Project Target button to read 250. As I cut, I will get a minus figure appearing and this makes it easy for me to see again when I’ve got to the right point.
There are a wide variety of preset formats, including short story and script writing ones. It is very easy to insert hyperlinks. You can split how you view the screen horizontally and vertically. This can be useful if you are making notes on something you are working on. You can use inline annotations to act as an aide memoire. I get mine to appear in red print, easy to spot later. To switch the annotation off you just go into it again and you are back into normal print.
You can also save your Scrivener document as a webpage (.html) and pdf files. Under the Compile function, you can have an automatic title and page numbering set up (the title is based on whatever you call the document). If you don’t want this, it is easy enough to delete the preset from the box.
I’ve used this for competitions where it is crucial there are no identifiers on the entry (usually with these, they want you to send a separate cover sheet. And if you use the Fiction templates and pick the short story option, a cover sheet template is there just ready for you to fill in!).
Highlighting text is easy too – just use Format and you can even pick a colour to use. I like pink! Right at the end of this is a More colours section so if you’re not happy with the few they’ve already set up for you, you can pick your own.
I also love, under the short story template, the character and setting pages which you can fill in to help you create said character and template. I don’t always use these but have found them useful for outlining. Also invaluable is an introduction to each template explaining more about it and, in the short story one, there’s an example of a short piece for you to see how it would look.
Then there’s the snap shot option, which I sometimes use to take a screen shot. This is automatically saved and if you have the “Inspector” on (press the blue circled I button at the top right), you can see to the right of the screen a selection of buttons, including one of a camera. Press that and you then see a list of snapshots you’ve taken.
I suggest using the Snapshot with Title option so you can easily trace each snapshot you’ve taken. There is also a notes button here. Click that and you can see any notes you’ve prepared. See my example for this piece.
I have found Word can be slow and cumbersome for long documents. This can be a pain for a novelist!! Or for a short story writer who is putting a collection together… No such problem using Scrivener…
For a long blog post, such as my two and three part articles, I can prepare the lot in one Scrivener document and put in the pictures if I want to. Do that in Word and it slows the program down. I’ve not had that problem with Scrivener.
I would recommend Scrivener for Dummies by Gwen Hernandez. This expands on Scrivener’s tutorial , there are lots of images to show you how something should look and I find a print manual easier to go through than an online one. It also has great cartoons between the chapters!
I will not be returning to Word. Where Word is still useful is for envelopes, labels, and for me to be able to send a document in that format as most competition entries ask for .doc or .docx.
I have occasionally used the .pdf function on Scrivener when a competition has allowed this (or, more rarely, has specifically asked for it).
I plan to continue writing flash fiction and short story collections so will continue to use the ability to convert into ebook format easily so I can see on screen how my work would look.
I almost forgot to mention that for Scriptwriters, not only do you have the scriptwriting template but you can export your document to .FirstDraft and also to Postscript (though I believe First Draft is the most popular format here).
I hope this gives a brief overview of this program and other writers might find it useful. This post is probably the most technical I’ve written (and is likely to remain so!). But can you just imagine what Shakespeare and company would have achieved with the software and technology we so often take for granted today?
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.
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